Megyn Kelly airbrushes her past to present a less repellent view
In the Atlantic Caitlin Flanagan’s review of Megyn Kelly’s book includes an extensive and intensive profile of Kelly, describing in some detail incidents from her career she omitted from her book. It’s definitely worth reading. It begins:
Fox news was founded in 1996, when the entertainment impresario and conservative political consultant Roger Ailes acted on a pair of insights: that most people found television news boring and that a significant number of conservatives didn’t trust it to represent their interests and values fairly. The TV producer in Ailes saw a marketing niche, and the political operative in him saw a direct way of courting voters. Rupert Murdoch owned the network, but Ailes was its intellectual author. In the two decades since, the network has thrived without legitimate competition of any kind. It has proved to be a big tent, sheltering beneath it some excellent reporters but also a collection of blowhards, performance artists, cornballs, and Republican operatives in rehab from political failures and personal embarrassments. With the help of this antic cast, the Fox audience has come to understand something important that it did not know before: The people who make “mainstream” news and entertainment don’t just look down on conservatives and their values—they despise them.
By 2010, the network had become so popular that—according to Gabriel Sherman’s biography, The Loudest Voice in the Room—Ailes added a new goal to the mission: the election of the next president. The team did its best for Mitt Romney, but he lacked both the ability to excite crowds and the blood instinct necessary to “rip Obama’s face off” in the debates, which Ailes believed was essential for victory. Almost as soon as the election ended, Fox News went back to work on the mission, emphasizing a variety of themes, each intended to demonize the left. At the top of the list was the regular suggestion that Barack Obama was an America-hating radical, an elaboration of Glenn Beck’s observation (on Fox) that the president had “a deep-seated hatred for white people.” Other themes included the idea that straight white men were under ever-present threat from progressive policies and attitudes; that Planned Parenthood was a kind of front operation for baby murder; that political correctness had made the utterance of even the most obvious factual statements dangerous; and that the concerns of black America—including, especially, those of the Black Lives Matter movement—were so illogical, and so emotionally expressed, that they revealed millions of Americans to be beyond the reach of reason.
There is zero evidence that Fox was motivated to help Donald Trump over the other Republican candidates, although in retrospect he seems almost the dream candidate of the new agenda, embodying all the signature Ailes moves, right down to ripping off his opponents’ faces and threatening reporters. (“How would you like it,” Ailes once asked the journalist Kurt Andersen, if “a camera crew followed your children home from school?”) We will never know to what extent Fox created or merely reported on the factor that turned out to be so decisive in the election: that to be white and conscious in America was to be in a constant state of rage.
In the middle of all this, feeding clips of ammo into the hot Fox News machine, was Megyn Kelly. To watch her, during one of her interviews on the subject of race and policing, interrupt a black guest to ask her whether she’d ever called white people “crackers” was to see Kelly in action, fired up and ready to go. In some respects, she was an independent actor at Fox, with her own show and ultimate control of its editorial content. But she was also a cog in something turning, and what the great machine ultimately produced was President Donald Trump.
But a funny thing happened as the election season unfolded. Kelly—the darling daughter of the conservative network—began to change before our eyes. She took on some of the most powerful Republican men in the country, including Newt Gingrich (“You know what, Mr. Speaker? I’m not fascinated by sex. But I am fascinated by the protection of women”); Roger Ailes (“I picked up the phone and called Lachlan Murdoch: ‘You need to get your general counsel on the phone’ ”); and Donald Trump himself (“You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals”). Over the summer she joined a group of vocal Hillary Clinton supporters—Lena Dunham, Emma Watson, Kerry Washington, Eva Longoria, and others—to take part in a Sheryl Sandberg initiative called Lean In Together (its name suggestive of Clinton’s own “Stronger Together” motto) that was dedicated to some vague vision of a female utopia.
And she published a best-selling memoir, Settle for More, that buffs away her long history of strongly argued and often principled conservative opinions and emphasizes her handful of progressive ones, packaging herself as an independent. The book never once mentions that the network she worked for is a platform for conservative ideas. Writing a book about a career at Fox without mentioning its conservative agenda is like writing a book about a career at the Vatican without mentioning its Catholic agenda. Kelly, it seemed, was cleaning up her record. Why? The answer came in January, when she announced her big new job at NBC.
That Kelly should have ended her tenure at Fox not just bullied by Trump but threatened by some of his deranged followers (she had to bring an armed guard with her when she took her children to Disney World last spring) falls somewhere between a dark irony and a sick statement of where we are in the year of our Lord 2017. That she should chart a path forward while downplaying her full role in an ugly election that helped fuel her rise hardly marks her as unusual—many on the right are eager to blur the norm-breaking excesses of the recent past. To judge by Kelly’s cover-her-traces strategy, her trajectory also conveys another message: Making the crossover to a major network requires a conservative to change her stripes, which is one reason why so many Americans have lost faith in the mainstream media.
Megyn kelly arrived at Fox at age 33, in 2004, with almost no experience in the field. As a teenager, she had not heeded her mother’s warning that “they don’t give scholarships for cheerleading.” She was popular, boy-crazy, obsessed with her weight, and the shining star of her high-school sorority. She had hoped to attend the fabled Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, but she whiffed the SAT and got rejected. She didn’t turn her back on the “planned pursuits” she had enumerated in her high-school yearbook: “College, government, and wealth.” She enrolled at Syracuse, majored in political science, and fell in love with a lax bro who knew how to encourage this fatherless daughter to be a winner. “You got this, little girl,” he would tell her when she set out to claim another prize.
Kelly decided to go to law school so that she could become a prosecutor “and be respected.” But once again she came up short, rejected this time by Notre Dame, so she packed up her aerobics leggings and Tri-Delt T-shirts and headed back to her girlhood bedroom and the Albany Law School, where a frenemy told her people were calling her Barbie (“Shove it up your ass,” Kelly said when she’d had enough: problem solved). She loved moot court, where she discovered she liked “being ‘on’ in a room”; she also spent too much money and ruined her credit. Public service was not going to put her right with the collection agencies, so she set her heart on Bickel & Brewer, the firm that pioneered “Rambo litigation”:
At twenty-three years old, I loved it. Kill or be killed! We’re not here to make friends, we’re here to win! You sue my client? F— you and your request for an extension! You want a settlement conference? Pound sand! Our offer is screw you!
After a decade in the trenches in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., making bank and cruising toward partner, Kelly had a little talk with herself: “I am more exciting than this!” she wrote in her journal. “I am more interesting than this! I am more interested than this! I need more out of life!” What she needed, it turned out, was to leave the law and become a TV news reporter. She bought a killer Dolce & Gabbana dress and made a demo tape. (“Only you would spend a thousand dollars to interview for a job that pays seventeen thousand a year!” her first husband said playfully, unaware that he was soon to be moved into the I am more interesting than this! category.) Sure enough, the dress, the tape, and the moxie got her a job moonlighting with Washington’s local ABC affiliate, and soon she was making a run at Fox News, the only major news network that actually prefers to hire reporters with little or no journalistic experience. In short order, she was in Roger Ailes’s office, making a case for herself.
As she tells it, one of the first questions Ailes asked her was . . .